ibnlive » India

Mar 12, 2009 at 08:15pm IST

Verrappan dead but sandalwood smuggling continues

New Delhi: Sandalwood is known to be rare and red sandalwood is the rarest. It is actually more valuable than gold. Despite the notorious sandalwood smuggler Veerappan not being around, red sandalwood is on the verge of extinction.

Veerappan was known as the king of the sandalwood jungles before he was gunned down by the police. But his legacy continues.

A much costlier and religiously significant variety of sandalwood called the red sandalwood is on the verge of extinction.

This special variety of sandalwood is available in only two places – Cuddhpah and Chittoore - in Andhra Pradesh - Tamil Nadu border.

One piece of this 18th century red sandalwood furniture from China fetches a price of $35 million.

But now this red sandalwood is fast disappearing from its country of origin.

Despite of a ban on its export, the wood is smuggled out of the country to China and Japan.

The wood is smuggled out by a politically connected mafia in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Manipur. The racket is controlled by two men – Verraya Shekhar alias Moreh Sekher and Krishnaswamy alias Appu.

Shekhar hails from a small border town of Moreh on the India-Burma border in Manipur. He is close to several top BJP leaders and operates from Delhi, Kolkata, Andhra Pradesh and Chennai.

Krishnaswamy runs his own smuggling network from Chennai. He is the one who was allegedly hired as a murderer by Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati. He is also a close associate of a former Tamil Nadu chief minister.

“What we catch is just one per cent of the total smuggling,” says Range Forest Offier, Raigad, Maharashtra BH Gaikwad.

Sources in the Finance Ministry say that it's a Rs 10,000 crore market. DRI seizures in ports across the country has shown a marked increase in the last four years.

In 2005-2006, DRI confiscated 500 metric tonnes of red sandalwood. In 2006-2007, it went up to 700 metric tonnes and in 2007-2008, the seizures doubled.

But in 2008-2009, it has already touched nearly 1000 metric tonne

A Finance Ministry note available with CNN-IBN clearly suggests that not only some top functionaries in the Andhra government are also involved, but the smugglers are taking helps from armymen, police, customs and forest officials.

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